Two decades of government efforts to improve social mobility have failed to deliver enough progress in reducing the gap between Britain’s ‘haves and have nots’, the Social Mobility Commission warns today in a hard-hitting new report.

It warns that without deep-seated reform, social and economic divisions in British society are set to widen with consequences for community cohesion and economic prosperity and predicts that it will take 80 years to close the aspiration gap between rich and poor at the current rate of progress.

While the report says that some policies, such as increasing employment and getting more working-class young people into university, have had a positive impact, overall the report concludes that ‘too little’ has been done to break the link between socio-economic background and social progress.

It says that over 20 years new divides have opened up in Britain, across geographies, income groups and generations – and that many policies of the past are no longer ‘fit for purpose’.

Among its findings, the commission says that child poverty has risen in the aftermath of the recession and there is currently no prospect of it ending.

Labour market outcomes for young people are poor, while youth unemployment has fallen, the number of young people who are NEET has barely changed and despite university access widening, retention and graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students have barely improved.

In our working lives, while employment rates are the highest on record and extreme low pay has been eliminated, b1 in 5 people in the UK are stuck on low pay, a higher proportion than other comparable nations
wages have stagnated in real terms with living standards falling, particularly for young people.

Meanwhile the highest-paid and best-paid jobs remain deeply elitist, while some progress is being made, it is painfully slow

It comes up with 5 key lessons from the past and makes recommendations for government which includes the conclusion that successive governments have failed to make social mobility the cornerstone of domestic policy,  so that in future they should develop a strategic cross-departmental social mobility plan and says that long-term progress has too often been sacrificed to short-term change, so 10 year targets should be implemented to ensure public money is spent effectively.

The chair of the commission, Rt Hon Alan Milburn, said:

“As the general election seems to demonstrate, the public mood is sour and whole tracts of Britain feel left behind. There is a mood for change in Britain.”


“In fact, what is so striking about this new analysis is how divided we have become as a nation. A new geographical divide has open opened up, a new income divide has opened up and a new generational divide has opened up.

If we go on like this, these divisions are set to widen, not narrow. There is a growing sense in the nation that these divisions are not sustainable, socially, economically or politically. There is hunger for change. The policies of the past have brought some progress, but many are no longer fit for purpose in our changing world. New approaches are needed if Britain is to become a fairer and more equal country.”


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